Judge Defends Slam of D.C.’s ‘Orwellian’ Antics

     (CN) – The District of Columbia must pay for an “Orwellian” discovery violation in its fight to defend rules limiting how long political signs can hang on lampposts, a federal judge ruled.
     Washington law mandates that signs can remain posted a maximum of 180 day, but signs “related to an event” must be removed 30 days after that event has passed.
     The Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation (MASF) and the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (Answer) Coalition filed suit in 2007, claiming that the regulations violate the First Amendment and due process clause.
     The Answer Coalition alleged separately that it received 99 citations for using destructive adhesive to post signs advertising its March to Stop the War event on public lampposts and electrical boxes.
     In July 2012, Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that MASF’s First Amendment claims could proceed to discovery.
     Attorneys for the district apparently told the court that discovery would be unnecessary, but demanded extensive requests anyway. Judge Lamberth ultimately slapped the district with sanctions for that maneuver.
     “The central issue is whether defendant was authorized to propound any discovery at all,” he wrote in October. “The answer is clear: No. Given the history of this litigation, the district’s position and arguments are as untenable as they are ridiculous. Defendant asks this court to enter an Orwellian world where all arguments are devoid of context, and all court orders magically mean whatever the district wishes them to mean. The court rejects this invitation.”
     Washington lawyers urged Lamberth to reconsider the order, strike his “vituperative rhetoric” from the record and stop payment on the sanctions pending appeal.
     Judge Lamberth refused those requests in two orders Monday.
     “The district objects to the tone and tenor of the court’s description, calling the language unnecessary while itself flippantly accusing the court of bias and intemperance,” Lamberth wrote. “Strong sanctions are one tool for case management. Other times, courts limit available sanctions while sternly warning the noncompliant party that its actions are unacceptable.”
     He rebuffed accusations of bias.
     “The court holds no ill will against the district; today, it thoroughly and seriously considers a motion that is thick with attacks on this court’s integrity and thin on the law,” the 21-page ruling states. “In its previous opinion, the court levied the minimum sanctions provided by Rule 16(f)(2). It sanctioned the party, not the individual attorneys. It did not turn to its inherent powers or the stronger sanctions authorized by Rules 16(f)(1) and 37(b)(2).
     “The court understands that accusations of bias from frustrated parties are part of the job and does not take them personally. The court recognizes that the district’s Office of the Attorney General (‘OAG’) has a number of ‘hard-working dedicated lawyers.’ … The court knows that the OAG is capable of intelligent, thoughtful lawyering. But when the district falls short of the standards established by the federal rules, the court does not have to sit silent in fear of having its objectivity called into question.”
     The second order, at 18 pages, calculates the sanction at $15,911.

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